Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is probably the most frequently performed choral work of the 21st century. The name has Latin roots – 'Carmina' means 'songs', while 'Burana' is the Latinised form of Beuren, the name of the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuren in Bavaria. So, Carmina Burana translates as Songs Of Beuren, and refers to a collection of early 13th-century songs and poems that was discovered in Beuren in 1803 – although it has since been established that the collection originated from Seckau Abbey, Austria – and is now housed in the Bavarian State Library.
Famous as its title has become through Carl Orff's work of the same name, the original Carmina burana—a German manuscript collection of mostly secular songs, probably compiled in the early thirteenth century—is all but unknown to modern listeners. That it should be so is hardly surprising, since many of the pieces in the manuscript pose formidable editorial problems (inasmuch as they can be deciphered at all), and since virtually nothing is known about the manner in which they would have been performed and accompanied, nor about the circumstances under which they would have been heard. In short, it is improbable that any twentieth-century performance of songs from Carmina burana will ever come close to the original experience, and it would certainly be fairer to describe such modern reconstructions as the present one as little more than exotic entertainments loosely inspired by material from the manuscript, much as Orff's cantata is.